About 6 months ago, Ben Bradshaw (MP for Exeter, and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) announced that the government intends to upgrade all national radio stations from analogue to digital by 2015.
As part of this scheme, a new ‘ultra-local’ tier of radio stations (community radio and RSLs) will occupy the FM spectrum space cleared by services migrating to DAB.
However, last week there was a debate in the House of Commons, centred around one MP who suggested that DAB+ be introduced, and that all future radio sets be able to recieve FM in order to make sure that the ultra-local services are not left behind.
Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland said that there was “widespread concern” from small, independant stations that the advancement of the digital era will leave many stations facing an uneven playing field.
And that is very true, because radio’s version of the digital switchover is something that will effect all radio stations accross the country, including the ones which don’t move over. I am sure that just about every radio station would like to be broadcasting on digital, but its not a case of what they want to do – more a case of what they can do, or can afford.
If you remember, on yesterday’s update I mentioned the costs to Corinium Radio for applying for an FM RSL… I was talking hundreds of pounds. If you think its a lot, then look at the cost for broadcasting on digital – at least ten times that! (Counting licences and the cost of the equipment). This is a cost which many radio stations can not afford, and forces many to stay on FM. Plus, in order for DAB/DAB+ to work properly, you need to be within recieving distance of at least 3 transmitters – not like FM, where only one is needed!
But even if FM can be recieved, will people want to? My Grandmother has a DAB/FM radio… but you need to switch between the 2 – press a button to get from FM to DAB (and vice versa) before retuning to the desired radio station. But people won’t necessarily think of switching over to FM for more radio stations once the switchover has happened – especially if their favourite radio station is a massive, national one like Radio 2, which will then be no longer available on FM.
One MP thinks he has the answer:
We are committed to ensuring the implementation of a combined station guide, which is similar to an electronic programme guide, that will allow listeners to access all sets will simply have a list of station names. The listener will not distinguish between FM and digital stations, but will simply select the station by name.
Quoted from Si^on Simon MP
(Sorry – coundn’t get the little arrow thingy to go on top of the o)
If such a system were to be introduced, it would mean that there’s no switching between FM and DAB; you simply scroll through and select the name of the radio station. This would mean a) no need to remember frequencies, and b) all radio stations can be accessed in exactly the same way, even though the technology running them is completely different.
Definatley something which should be introduced! Because, I expect that although the national radio stations will get through the switchover, unless a system which sort of merges the two together – a system which would mean listeners can’t distinguish between an FM station and a digital radio station – is implemented widely, smaller radio stations will loose listeners.